Axar Patel in T20 re-build mode after World Cup injury low | Cricket

“It wasn’t like I was particularly fired up today. Not getting picked for the South Africa series wasn’t on my mind. It is the selectors’ decision and not mine, so I was just focussing on what I had to do in the game.”

Axar Patel celebrates with Suryakumar Yadav after taking the wicket of Ben McDermott during the fourth T20I between India and Australia(AFP)

Axar Patel was his usual cheerful self, addressing the press conference after India’s series-clinching win in the fourth T20 International against Australia in Raipur on Saturday. The left-arm spinner was declared Player-of-the-Match for his outstanding spell of 3/16 in the 20-run win, which gave India an unassailable 3-1 lead.

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Be it formal post-match interviews or the more relaxed chats on, the conversations are never too tense if Axar is holding the mic. He has always come across as someone with an easy-going personality, showing great camaraderie with teammates.

Still, speaking in Raipur, it couldn’t have been easy for him. A day earlier, the 29-year-old had been left out of India’s T20I squad for the upcoming tour of South Africa. This, after he suffered an injury to miss out on the opportunity of competing in a home ODI World Cup.

It wasn’t long ago that Axar looked like one of the mainstays in India’s T20I line-up. His batting in particular was top notch as an all-rounder. Going into this series, he averaged 39.25 in eight T20Is this year.

He played in the Asia Cup in September and made it to the World Cup squad before the left quadriceps injury led to a situation where he has to earn his stripes all over again.

In the first three T20Is against Australia, where the conditions were brutal for bowlers, Axar returned figures of 0/32, 1/25 and 1/37. He got just two wickets but did well to not to be taken for many runs. And in the fourth T20I, where the pitch wasn’t a belter and the dew was milder, he showed his calibre with a match-winning spell.

The wicket of Travis Head was the highlight. Chasing 175, Australia were on the charge at 40/0 in three overs thanks to Head’s fireworks. The left-hander stole the show in the World Cup final with a century and threatened to hand India another defeat. But Axar joined the attack in the fifth over and with his fourth delivery managed to draw a false shot from the Aussie opener.

He credited Suryakumar Yadav, India’s stand-in captain in the series, for creating an environment that allowed him to find his best after returning from a heartbreaking injury layoff.

“Surya is fearless and he told us at the start itself that we should play in that manner,” said Axar. “You can see, we’ve been scoring over 200 runs consistently. There’s no pressure on any player and we’ve been told that the management will back us as long as we keep pushing for the team’s interest. In such conditions (batting friendly), it’s important for the captain to trust his bowlers and that’s exactly what Surya does.”

Ravi Bishnoi too has been impressive throughout and is the leading wicket-taker (seven) across both teams. In a high-scoring series, the leg-spinner has bowled at an economy of 8.43 and allowed Axar to bowl aggressively from the other end.

“He (Bishnoi) has bowled really well throughout the series,” said Axar. “We’ve bowled well as a combination, even in the powerplay. With his speed and variations, he’s an X factor and has troubled the Australian batters consistently. Overall, I’ve enjoyed our partnership.”

For Axar, the turn of events over the past few months have been unfortunate. He is in the ODI squad for South Africa but fellow left-arm spinner Ravindra Jadeja has pipped him to the spot for the shortest format. To get on the flight for the T20 World Cup, which is just six months away, he won’t have much room for error each time he takes the field.

Despite the challenge, one can expect him to keep things light and take each day as it comes.

“I was a bit disappointed that the World Cup was in India and I missed out because of an injury,” said Axar. “It did take a few days to get over, but I started focussing on my training eventually. I was upset, but what can you do… it’s part and parcel of the game and you have to move on.”

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